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Half-Open Windows

By Ganesh Matkari

Click here to buy Half-Open Windows.

From where I was sitting, I could see the sea. Far away. Really far away. Which means, if I were to go down, get out the car, and drive, it would take roughly an hour or an hour and a half to get there. That’s taking into account the 5:30 p.m. fuck-all traffic. But that’s no surprise. When you’re going from Point A to Point Anywhere in Mumbai, you’ve got to take the traffic into account.

Anyway, the sea. From here, it looks a little pathetic, framed by buildings on both sides. There is the island of the Haji Ali mosque too. In the heat and dust of this city, it shines in the warm light of the evening. The fun of it is the sun is directly overhead. The rain may begin at any moment now. The sun over Haji Ali isn’t concerned about the threat of rain. It shines, lost in its own world. On the other side of the sea-face, the new stadium is visible. It catches the eye because of its peculiarly designed dome. The area beyond it is like some weird urban design experiment. Two cities stand side by side, resolutely refusing to converse with each other: the old Mumbai and the new one that wants to compete with Singapore. Even if you stare, you can’t tell where one ends and the other begins. For an architecture student like me, this is very interesting. Almost like witnessing the death and the rebirth of the city. In one glance, I can take in a few last remaining two- and three-storey buildings of Parel-Lalbaug, the ruins of the mills that have been closed down, a few eight- and ten-storey buildings of the middle period when FSI was relaxed a little, once seemingly huge but in comparison to the monsters of today, almost invisible.

Those monsters, all glass grins and concrete teeth, have eaten up the sky, each one blotting out a little more of my sea view, but how can I complain? I live in just such a monster, in one of the three or four flats Dad has bought as investments.

And anyway, I’m not here for the long run.

No way, José.

I tapped the ash off my cigarette and tossed the empty. Then my phone, which I had placed on the parapet, rang.

‘Ramya, is that you?’ Harsh was squeaking.

Harsh: classmate, from school and now in architecture school. Harmless sort. Well brought up, well meaning. Panics easily. From his voice, panic was happening.

‘Ramya, answer me, are you there?’

‘You called me, right?’ I tried to calm him down.

‘Your text just now. What did you mean?’ Harsh’s voice was getting higher.

‘Was it not clear? “I’m tired of it all”? It was meant to be a suicide note. Or a suicide text.’ I said and up to that point I kept my calm. ‘But what did you think? I sent you the text and then immediately went and jumped? Be reasonable, man!’

I did my best imitation of a sane person. Then I looked down.

No one had gathered yet. That’s Mumbai for you. Everyone has something to do. Whether anyone else lives or dies or is going to die or seems to be about to die, they don’t have the time. Now shouldn’t someone have noticed me, sitting on the parapet of a twenty-three-storey building, dangling his feet in the cool evening air? But who has the time? Had I pulled this stunt in a decent city like Nashik or Pune, a gratifying number of people would have gathered by now. Mumbai? Such a spoilsport. If someone were really trying to kill himself, he would have been miserable. I almost felt happy that I had no intention of doing something that stupid. I was just trying to get into the spirit of things.

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